'Tiger 14' producer shares new features

In "Tiger 14," online play is more social than ever with ball arcs representing each player's shot. Courtesy of EA Sports

Tiger Woods swinging hickory clubs and putting with a Calamity Jane?

That’s the flashback vibe gamers get when they enter the Legends of the Majors mode in “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14,” as golfers will not only compete across six different eras against all-time greats such as Bobby Jones and Arnold Palmer, they’ll have to beat the legends using only the equipment available in each era.

“The clubs not only look different, they play different in the game, so you’ll actually need to adapt your style depending on what era and what course you’re playing on,” says Brent Nielsen, executive producer of “Tiger 14.” “You get to relearn the whole experience and see how the game of golf has changed over time.

“The courses back in the day were a lot shorter than they are now, because technology has changed, so using the older clubs, you hit the ball with a low trajectory and used more roll. The clubs back then had a smaller sweet spot, so you’ll need to be more precise using the older clubs. It’s more challenging to play with the older clubs just because you have to be a lot more perfect. You won’t want to swing as hard because you’ll need to be so much more precise when you’re striking the ball.”

But that’s not the only new feature Nielsen and his design crew have in store for the upcoming game.

New courses include Mission Hills, Muirfield Village, Oak Hill Country Club (East Course), Royal Troon and TPC Louisiana, while new licensed golfers include Keegan Bradley, Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Bud Cauley, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Bobby Jones, and “Tiger Slam” Tiger Woods (00-01).

Nielsen helps fill us in on the rest of the details before the game’s March 26 release.

ESPN Playbook: A lot of sports gamers view the “Tiger” franchise as a game they buy every other year, or even one out of three years. What is it about “Tiger 14” that’s been upgraded to the point where this game is now a must-buy?

Brent Nielsen: To me, the biggest thing is the addition of the Legends of the Majors mode. When we started designing that mode, it really took on a life of its own and became this very cool, big thing. It started with mock-ups and color treatments as we thought, ‘What if you could be transported through time and play the different eras of golf and being able to use that equipment while playing as or against some of the legends from each of these eras?’ The feature just grew and grew and it became this really great way to experience golf throughout its entire history.

There are six different eras that you can play through, and each era represents a golfer or a set of golfers along with all of the equipment and clubs from the different eras. Even the crowds, you’ll notice the way they’re dressed, and the way the golfers are dressed. We didn’t just want this to be a visual mode, though, so while we were looking at the clubs, we wanted to change the way the game was played and how the physics react in the game.

The coolest thing about playing this mode, in my opinion, is that when you get to the end of every era, you play the sports game equivalent of a boss battle, and if you win that last challenge, you unlock that era to play through at any time. So once you beat that era, you can set up dream scenarios where you see how a modern-day Tiger would fare against a Jack Nicklaus or a Bobby Jones. The other cool thing about this is, when you set up your Bobby Jones versus Tiger matchup, you can choose what era you want to play in. So if you choose to play in the 1930s, both Bobby Jones and Tiger need to play using only the equipment from that era, so it’s more of an apples-to-apples comparison. If you choose to play Bobby against Tiger in the modern day, then they’ll both use the modern-day equipment, evening the playing field to see who would win if they were ever able to play each other.

The LPGA is in the game for the first time this year. How does the addition of all the new licenses play out in the game?

Yeah, it’s pretty exciting as for the first time ever in the game, we have the LPGA Tour. You can play the LPGA as your career, and you can play the U.S. Women’s Amateur. But that’s not all as we added a lot of licenses throughout our game this year. On the PGA side, for the first time we added all four Majors with the official licenses from PGA of America, the USGA, and the Royal and Ancient. With the USGA and R&A, when you’re playing through your career, you can also play the U.S. Amateur, and if you create a golfer from the U.K., you can even play through the British Amateur when you’re starting out. All of these licenses give us a ton of additional content throughout the game.

What new online features can gamers expect this year?

One of the big things, when you’re playing in a connected tournament, before when you were playing in a live tournament, you were connected online, but you felt like you were playing by yourself. You would just check the leaderboard and see how you were doing against people. But golf is a social sport, and we’re trying to bring more of that social aspect of golf and how you compete against and interact with friends into the game. This year, it really feels like you’re playing with these people. You used to just be able to play as a foursome, but now, we’ve added shot arcs for up to 24 players per hole and they are all linked to gamertags so you can see who you are up against. Now if you’re playing at the same time as your friends, you can see their shots, and it really makes it feel more like you’re competing against people. We’ve also added tournament chat as well as other chat streams, so if you’re playing in a tournament you can chat with other people who are in or around the same hole that you are, and at the same time, you’ll also be able to chat with your country club members.

Speaking of country clubs, we’ve also made a lot of enhancements to that mode as well. You can chat with one of your country club members and let them know that you’re playing in a certain tournament and you’re at a certain hole. You can then wait for him to catch up to you, and the game will go into spectator mode until he catches up, then you can move on and play together. We’ve also increased the size of country clubs. Last year, you could have 25, this year, you can have up to 100 members in your club. We’ve also added a new loyalty bonus so that you could get bigger payouts depending on how many people from your club are playing, with the more people playing, the bigger the loyalty bonus you’ll be getting. You can create club tournaments and play with up to 24 members, and we’ve even added almost like a country club season mode where you can be playing a whole series of tournaments -- weekly tournaments, monthly tournaments -- and we have a country club leadership board that shows how you stack up against other country clubs. It’s almost like an online country club season mode where it tracks the performance of your club against other clubs over time.

I saw some of the new nighttime and weather effects in the game this year. How extreme does the weather get?

You can play anytime, any course, and we have real-time weather and time of day. So if you start a round in the late afternoon, as you play on the later rounds, you’ll actually see the lighting conditions change in real time as you play through your round. And if you play with live time of day, live weather, it’s whatever conditions are happening at that time. So if you fire up a game and it’s 5 p.m. on the East Coast here in Orlando, and you want to play St. Andrews, which is five hours ahead, you’ll actually be playing at nighttime. During development, one of the new courses we added was TPC Louisiana, and there was a big storm going through there, and when we tested it, there were 50-60 mph winds in the game. [Laughs] It was kind of cool to try and play through some of these extreme conditions. But, of course, these are all managed in settings, so you don’t have to play this way. You can set the time of day or weather how you like. It’s pretty cool to play at night, though, as you get the glowing ball. It’s a neat way to experience the game and play these courses at times and conditions that you couldn’t do in real life.

Can you play in the snow?

It’s funny that you say that because we don’t have snow, but after watching Match Play get postponed the other day because of snow, I think it’s something we’re going to look at adding. It’s not something we thought about, because you don’t golf in the snow, but it certainly was a factor this past weekend.

Game play-wise, how do the new swing styles change the way you play?

We had a lot of people last year react really well to the total swing control, and this year, we’ve added swing styles to that. It’s all tied into total swing control, so you can choose whether you want to be a power or control golfer. Do you play with a draw or a fade? Do you play with a high, medium, or low trajectory? All of the licensed golfers in the game are matched up with all of the swing styles they have in real life. For example, if I’m a control/draw player, I’m going to have some advantages in the game if I play to that strength. Last year, with the window of opportunity you were given when you pulled the club back and swung forward, and if you were off plane, the further you’re off plane, the more you have a chance to mishit your shot. This year, if you’re playing a control shot and you’re actually hitting a draw, it’s a lot more forgiving, that sweet spot you need to hit in order to execute your shot. If I’m trying a shot that doesn’t apply to my strengths, it’s going to be a little more difficult, but I can still do it, just like I can in real life.

We’ve also enhanced the strike meter. Last year, the strike meter was basically where on the ball, up or down, that you hit. This enabled you to hit punch shots or take the ball low under trees or blasting out of bunker. This year, we’ve added sides, left or right, to the strike meter. So now you can adjust your shot even more. Last year, I think we had over 60 million variations of shots, and now this year, with the enhancement to the strike meter and the various swing styles, the combinations are astronomical.

And that’s not all, as we’ve also added new precision chipping. Chipping in the game was always you just trying to take a short version of the full swing. But chipping around the green is all about feel, so we added precision chipping to the game so if you’re closer to the green, it looks more like the putt meter as compared to trying to take a full swing, a quarter swing, or a half swing. It just adds a lot more feel around the green.

There’s a special Masters Historic version of the game this year where you can play the original 1934 Augusta National. How much work was it to get that course in “Tiger 14”?

We had people from Augusta and golf historians sit down with our artists to recreate, hole-by-hole, how the course was in the 1930s. There will be challenges in the regular edition, where you can play certain holes, but in the Historic version, you can play the whole course, but back then, the holes were reversed. So what is currently the front nine, was the back nine, and vice versa. So you get to a hole like 15, which is a par 5 now, it was hole 6 back in 1934, and the big trees that are so prevalent now and play such a big factor in how golfers approach the hole, they were only like six feet tall back then. It changes the whole thing and gives you a completely different experience. It’s just another cool way to play the game. Playing the course how it was back in ’34 is a fantasy for golf fans who, without this game, otherwise wouldn’t get the chance to experience.